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Ask Alton Brown How Food+Heat=Cooking 844

Posted by Roblimo
from the slaving-over-a-hot-stove-all-day dept.
This week's Slashdot interview guest is Alton Brown, host of the popular cable TV show Good Eats. This is a "reader request" interview in the wake of the surprisingly popular Slashdot review of Alton's book, I'm Just Here for the Food. Please post your questions below. we'll send 10 of the highest-moderated to Alton, and post his answers when we get them back.
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Ask Alton Brown How Food+Heat=Cooking

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:05PM (#4054494)
    If you and Emeril were doing battle in Kitchen Stadium, Who would win? ;-)
  • Alton. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Winmac (322914) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:05PM (#4054496) Homepage Journal
    What would be the best way for someone to cook say late at night when he's just coding all he really can, but does not want to wake anyone up?

    I'm rather tired of bowls of corn flakes.

    Winmac.
  • like the salt keeper, the plunger measuring cup, the trippy wisks...
    • The Good Eats Fan page (www.goodeatsfanpage.com) has a lot of information about the show, including the equipment Alton uses on the show. The url for the page is http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/References/TheEquip ment.htm

      From there there are different pages for various types of items, including cook/bake ware, everyday equip., etc.

      Since www.goodeatsfanpage.com is going slow right now, you might try using this google search url (http://www.google.com/search?query=equipment%20si te%3Awww.goodeatsfanpage.com&num=10) and what you are looking for are the first few links.
  • What is a decent way to serve up a hot dog, that is delicious, different and retains some of the barehandedness that makes so much of american cuisine so much fun!!!
  • The Source... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hansendc (95162) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:06PM (#4054502) Homepage
    I very rarely hear other cooking shows, critically analyze different cooking lore and legend. How did you start getting interested in the science behind cooking? Did you learn it just because it helps you makes better food, or have you been a long-time cooking geek? (see normal /. definition of geek) Do you use the Internet very extensively for research about the science of cooking?
  • by JUSTONEMORELATTE (584508) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:06PM (#4054503) Homepage
    If you were to arrive in a new city, without any knowledge of local dining, where would you eat and why?
    • This is a great question!

      Although if he's anything like most geeks,

      He'll do a bunch of research before hand. If there was not time for that, I bet he'd simply ask around (thats how I found some great barbeque in Kansas city (not that thats hard, but the first two places I was "directed" to sucked.))
  • by CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:07PM (#4054507)
    What is your favorite sit-down resteraunt and What is your favorite fast food resteraunt? If you were on death row what would you choose as your last meal?
  • One question I've had for a while...if cooking is basically a chemical reaction, and chemical reactions can be reversed, does that mean that there's a chemistry of "uncooking?" Imagine the untapped millions of $ available to you if you can show people how to unburn their pot roast!
    • You need to contain everything in a closed vessel. Then, the theory can be worked on. Otherwise you lose too much in terms of gases and airborne material.

      Then you have another problem.. re-synthesizing complex sugars and proteins. Once heat destroys these, they are very difficult to re-assemble from component parts.. it's like tying to get a diamond changed back into a lump of coal.

      Vortran out
  • by kallistiblue (411048) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:07PM (#4054509) Homepage
    I've noticed that some people seem to be naturally better cooks than others.
    I've know several people that follow a recipe very exactly. The food they create just doesn't turn out very good.
    Personally, I'll use a recipe as a guideline and use rough estimates. Most of the time, my meals turn out pretty well.
    It's as if a intuitive sense is needed.

    How does someone learn/teach this skill?
    • It's the same thing with coding - some people are better coders than others, and just showing them the rules and syntax won't help them. They need to learn how to problem solve.

      Basically what you're attempting to do is called cognative skills transfer. It's no good transfering the rules of what to cook, you want to transfer the understanding of how you can combine various things, and how to anticipate what effect applying previously unknown combinations of ingredents and techniques work. Again, problem solving.

      There's lots of literature on this subject about teaching people this - it's called "Cogantive Transfer". I recommend looking at some of the stuff by Richard E. Mayer - very interesting.

      • Ditto for music. One needs to have a certain level of skill, and then practise to hone that skill. But there's this little thing called feeling. Either you have it or you don't. If you have it, then you can play nursery rhymes and imbue them with character and beauty. If you don't...well, then it's all just a bunch of notes.

        That's why B.B. King is a genius. Can you imagine anyone going up to him and saying, "Wow, that concert tonight was technically perfect!". Or, for that matter, "Man, you played fast tonight!" Not to detract from his technical abilities, but what matters is feeling. Call it soul, if you like -- it's the difference between B.B. King and legions of metal guitarists who can squeeze out 15 notes per second, but will never be musicians.

        It's probably the same reason why my spaghetti bolognaise is, well, usually not much more than your average spaghetti bolognaise. Sure, I can cook; but I haven't rehearsed my cooking, and I don't have a cook's feel for the proportions and the mixing and whatever else an expert does. And an expert in any field, be it cooking or painting or music, is a joy to behold.
    • by delcielo (217760) on Monday August 12, 2002 @02:18PM (#4055677) Journal
      Do you ever just completely blow a dish? Experience, I'm sure, makes your mistakes different than mine; but do you ever just taste soemthing you've cooked and say "God. What did I do to that?

  • 1) the International Space Station

    2) a Desert Island

    3) Sally Struthers


    Which would it be?

  • Salt.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by B00yah (213676)
    Why is it that no matter what you're cooking, salt makes it better? Desserts, meat, vegetables, etc.
    • by Enry (630)
      One of his shows (or maybe it was the book) went over this. IIRC, a larger portion of the tongue is dedicated to sensing salt.
  • Vegetarians (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sammy.lost-angel.com (316593) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:08PM (#4054516) Homepage
    As a vegetarian, I'm compelled to ask this: Have you seen a trend in recent years of more vegetarians, or more dishes made without meat? Time magazine had a recent cover story about this, and my feeling is it's becoming a more important part of everyones lives, yet whenever I catch a cooking show on TV it lacks making many vegetarian dishes.

    I sort of compare it to Microsoft talking to a lot of my friends: there is a lot of misinformation out there, and you simply don't need to support a "big evil company" just like you don't need to eat the flesh of animals.

    Mod this as you feel appropriate :)
    • by scotch (102596)
      Why stop there? You don't need to eat the flesh of veggies either. If you really cared about your fellow creature, you would just sit in the sun and photosynthesize.

      (grinning, ducking, running)

      • by wiredog (43288) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:16PM (#4054602) Journal

        Listen up brothers and sisters, come here my desperate tale.

        I speak of our friends of nature, trapped in the dirt like a jail

        Vegtables live in oppression, served on out tables each night

        This killing of veggies is madness, I say we take up the fight

        Salads are only for murderers, cole slaw's a fascist regime!

        Don't think that they don't have feelings, just cause a radish can't scream.

        I've heard the screams of the vegetables, watching their skins being peeled.

        Grated and steamed with no mercy.. how do you think that feels?

        Carrot juice constitutes murder.. greenhouses prisons for slaves!

        It's time to stop all this gardening.. let's call a spade a spade.

        ...

        I'm a political prisoner, trapped in a windowless cage

        'Cause I stopped the slaughter of turnips, by killing five men in a rage

        The Arrogant Worms [arrogant-worms.com]

      • think about it - the massive enslavement of several other species who don't even get to turn around in their stall, nor see the light of day their entire life... how is that any different from plugging someone into the matrix? (I guess there aren't expensive computer programs entertaining their brains).

        Eat veggies - they don't have brains. If you're really concerned about killing living things, then only eat fruit after it's fallen from the tree. But this is really taking things a little too far though, after all many fruits have formed a sybiotic relationship with animals. Why do you think most fruit seeds are coated with sweet nutritious coatings? So that animals will pick them up and spread the seeds around. That's why cherries make you shit - it's their way of getting birds to make new cherry trees that don't have to compete for the same piece of land as the parent.

    • As soon as someone can grow a cabbage that tastes like a prime rib steak or a turnip that tastes like a bratwurst, I'm vegetarian all the way!!

      Yes you're right.. one does not need to eat the flesh of animals. It's kinda yucky and none too healthy.. but they're so TASTY!!

      Vortan out
    • Re:Vegetarians (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Matey-O (518004) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:26PM (#4054672) Homepage Journal
      I think Vegetarian food has lost the 'stigma' it once had. It's gotten to the point now where I'll frequently have a meal without meat and not think anything about it. (Certainly not "Hey! Look at that! I just ate something without MEAT in it!")

      As far as doing it for your own political desires, have at it. I find it curious that much of the vegetarian food industry is devoted to foodstuff that looks and tastes like meat. There's a biological desire there to use meat as a source of protein. And really on a buch of levels, nothing beats a good Ribeye. (blah blah blah, 6 lbs of grain and 88 million gallons of water to make that ribeye, blah blah blah)

      That's not to say I don't also love a good vegetable curry now and then.
  • Economy Geek Food (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom7 (102298) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:08PM (#4054519) Homepage Journal

    Here's what I want in a meal. If I'm like other geeks, and I think I am, they'll be interested too:

    - Easy to prepare in bulk, hard to screw up
    - Made from cheap ingredients I can purchase in bulk and that keep more-or-less indefinitely
    - Leftovers are robust and reheatable in the microwave
    - Healthy and tasty

    My best recipe so far is two gallons of chili made in a big slow-cooker. Do you have any other suggestions?

  • Questions... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by f00zbll (526151) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:08PM (#4054520)
    Have you ever made filo dough from scratch? If so, what are the secrets of making perfect filo dough?

    Do you keep a database of your recipes or do you use the old fashion method of dead trees?

  • Junk Food (Score:3, Interesting)

    by boa13 (548222) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:09PM (#4054523) Homepage Journal
    So, I'm a student here in the U.S., eating way more fast-food than I should, watching a population around me that is fatter than what we have in Europe. What do you think about the so-called junk food, and the people that eat it? Are you or would you get involved in campaigns that aim to educate people about what they eat?
  • by Dirtside (91468)
    Wait wait, WHAT? You can HEAT food? Hot damn! I'm writing this down... no more frozen taquitos in the middle of a 16-hour coding binge for me!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:09PM (#4054531)
    My fiancee is not a good cook. There are a few things she cooks pretty well, but she just doesn't have the talent of someone who really knows how to cook.

    I myself am a decent enough cook, however, I don't know how to teach her to cook, as I am a horrible teacher.

    So, my question to you is this...

    How can a pretty bad cook learn the essentials of good cooking?

  • by Ricdude (4163) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:11PM (#4054546) Homepage
    What are the main differences in the types of yeast used for making bread, versus the types of yeast used for making beer? Could someone, for example, take a beer yeast culture and make a decent sourdough from it?

  • by kiwimate (458274) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:11PM (#4054547) Journal
    From the /. review:

    Back to the grill, he's removed one of the plates on the side of his grill and fitted it with a piece of tailpipe. Then, when he's grilling, he sticks a hair dryer in the tailpipe and uses it to whip the coals into an inferno. Which might explain why he gets his oven mitts from the hardware store in the form of welding gloves. When talking about ovens, he describes how he builds an oven out of firebricks, and how he uses a large terra cotta pot to cook a chicken in his oven. It's all in the name of even heat distribution. He's also not above rewiring his electric skillet to provide a greater range of temperatures. You know you've read something good when the author includes a mini-disclaimer to the effect of "if you try this at home kids, I and the publisher are not responsible."

    Okay, well, he's apparently fairly cool.

    As for the question: how does he come up with these rather novel cooking methods? Is it trial and error (and, if so, what errors)? Does he have any sort of physics background? Or does he just wake up at 2am and think what a wizard idea it would be to use a hair dryer as a catalyst for his cooking?
  • by autechre (121980) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:12PM (#4054559) Homepage

    First of all, thanks for a great cooking show. I've used ideas from many of them (such as quarry tile for a pizza oven), and when I'm not making up my own dishes, the recipes I use are almost always yours.

    I've noticed what appear to be some discrepencies between the recipes listed on foodtv.com and the recipes which appear on the actual show. For the "Deep Purple" episode, you carefully noted that the parsely in the baba ghannouj recipe should be added at the very end, because chopping it too long would turn it bitter, but the online version just tosses it in with the rest. Similarly, the eggplant pasta recipe from that show seems to try to double the recipe, but the amount of some ingredients has not increased consistently. I know that doubling a recipe is non-linear, but I would have thought less basil would be used, not more. Finally, the "Herb Spread" recipe from "Good Milk Gone Bad" seems to have been completely altered, with the original spices listed as "an alternative" (though it would still include Worcestire sauce, which wasn't in the original). I've used the original version of that spread for 3 parties, and everyone has really liked it, so I don't see why that was done.

    I saw your comments and addendum on the online recipe for pizza dough, so I was just wondering why the recipes are sometimes different from the shows.

    Anyway, thanks again for a great show. I really hope to see more released on DVD (the current ones out aren't the ones I really want), or at least some older shows repeated on Food Network.

    • by IvyMike (178408) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:54PM (#4054950)

      I was just wondering why the recipes are sometimes different from the shows.

      Probably for about the same reason my luggage ended up in Dallas the last time I went to Chicago. :)

      In any case, you can get the show transcripts [goodeatsfanpage.com] from the Good Eats Fan Page, which include all of the text from the shows, including the correct version of stuff foodtv screwed up on the web site. I usually double-check the foodtv recipes against the transcript if there's any question in my mind that there might be something left out in the recipe.

  • Gizmos (Score:2, Interesting)

    by f00zbll (526151)
    You often make up gizmo's or custom solutions on your show. My question is, "do you actually use those regularly and what kind of reactions do you get from people when they see you using a home made item?"
  • by Enry (630) <enry AT wayga DOT net> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:13PM (#4054565) Journal
    I have a rather small kitchen, but love cooking. The downside is that I have a lot of gear all over the place, usually because I really need it. What would you recommend as a "required list" of tools (utensils/appliances) that people should have in their kitchen?
  • dirty pleasures .. ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peatbakke (52079) <peat@nosPAM.peat.org> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:13PM (#4054568) Homepage
    As a well known chef, people must assume you have a refined palate and discerning tastes ... but do you ever get a crazy cravin' for a Big Mac? Do you have a secret lust for a particular type of junk food?
  • Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JiMbOb_ka (232846)
    Having watched your show numerous times, it is easy to see you have a genuine "geekness" about you. As a fellow member of the tribe, I always find it interesting to see how you explain so many things with the science behind the matter rather than just explaining it away with "Because that's the way it's always been done.". My question to you is this, have you always been a cerebrally inclined individual? Have you faced many hurdles in the cooking world due to your pursuit of the science and taste and not the tradition?
  • Why is it that everytime I want to watch your show, Emeril is on instead?
  • Art vs. Science (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Susskins (547729) <susskins@vCOBOLisi.com minus language> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:13PM (#4054573)
    A lot of your show is dedicated to the Science of cooking, and to the underlying physics of food. Your Grandmother (in a really cool episode about biscuits) demonstrated a wicked amount of Artistic Skill, the "look and feel" of food preparation. Do you have any thoughts about the balance of Art and Science in cooking?
  • Knives (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cporter (61382)
    Mr. Brown, I've been watching your show for some time, and I know that you provide a good deal good advice on selecting and caring for kitchen equipment: appliances, "gadgets," cookware, and even a barbecue grill. I appreciate this part of "Good Eats" a great deal.

    One discussion I haven't seen: I consider the most important multitasker in my kitchen to be a knife, mainly my 8" chef's knife. What advice do you have for choosing a set of knives? Which knives do you consider the most important in food prep? Do you sharpen them yourself or have them sharpened at a shop?

    Thank You
    Chris

    • This is covered in the book, as well as in epsiode EA1B12, the tomato sauce one.

      Good question, but we only have 10, so let's ask something he hasen't covered.

    • He did address this in a past show, but I forget which one. I didn't see it, but I did read the transcript at www.goodeatsfanclub.com.

      For the record, here's what I remember from the episode: Choose a quality knife that feels comfortable to you. Hone them at home after each use (it actually straightens the blade, not sharpens it). Professionals send their knives out to be sharpened, and so should you.

  • Cancerous Carbs? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by (eternal_software) (233207) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:15PM (#4054588)
    With all this talk of heating foods, I was wondering what your feelings are on the World Health Organization calling an emergency meeting to discuss the recent studies on heating carbohydrates [msnbc.com]. These studies found high levels of the carcinogin acrylamide when carbohydrates are heated in a certain way, such as by frying potatoes or baking bread.

    Do you think this will affect your cooking recommendations in anyway?
  • by teamhasnoi (554944) <teamhasnoi@@@yahoo...com> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:15PM (#4054590) Homepage Journal
    Do you use it, or shun it? Do you subscribe to the notion of an extra flavor (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and ((perhaps)) savory ) that it is supposed to represent?

    Where is it approprate, and how might I use it best? Or why shouldn't I use it at all?

    • I took a neuroscience class last fall and I can answer your question. There are definitely G-protein coupled receptors in the mouth for detecting more than just "salt, sweet, sour, and bitter." In fact, IIRC, sweet and bitter both rely on similar (GPC) receptors, whilst sour and salt rely on ion channels. The name of this taste is called "umami." What you're tasting is the neurotrasmitter glutamate. The dangerous part of MSG is the sodium ion, because sodium is necessary (neurons cannot fire without it) but people generally get too much of it anyway.

      IIRC, neuroscientists haven't yet figured out all of the different receptors in our mouths. The basic idea is that each one provides a benefit to survival: sweet = high carb, sour = citrus (?), bitter = poisonous, salt = need salt, umami = good protein source (?), etc.

      BlackGriffen
  • by mwalker (66677)
    Why is it that the recipes from Good Eats belong to the Food Network, and they post so few of them? How much editorial control do you have over your Web Content [altonbrown.com] and would you do things differently if you had the option?

  • Resteraunts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ajakk (29927) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:16PM (#4054594) Homepage
    I read an article about Ming Tsai (the wonderful host of East Meets West) where he noted that, after his show became popular, he came under enormous amounts of pressure to open resteraunts across America a la Emerill. He turned down the offers, and I was wondering if you have come under the same pressure and what is your feeling towards opening up resterants capitalizing on your celebrity.

  • Iron Chef (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:16PM (#4054599) Homepage Journal
    Seeing that all geeks love Iron Chef, I have to ask, would you be willing to go against an Iron Chef? If so, which would you pick??
  • must have video! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elmegil (12001) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:17PM (#4054605) Homepage Journal
    When is the entire series going to be available on DVD? Or perhaps more seriously, what plans are there to expand on the current three DVDs, which admittedly cover classics, but leave us wanting more? (I have to have a copy of the oatmeal episode, just for the haggis recipe; not that I want to MAKE haggis mind you, but that was some inspired scripting)
  • My question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mofolotopo (458966) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:18PM (#4054611)
    Something I've found as a newbie chef is that a good 75.32% of good cooking is good shopping. What tips do you have for finding good, fresh ingredients? Where the heck do you get fresh herbs etc. in a smallish town?
  • Elements of cooking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SWroclawski (95770) <(serge) (at) (wroclawski.org)> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:18PM (#4054615) Homepage
    Mr Brown,

    I think that the most interesting part of your show to this audience is your emphasis on the science of cooking, from discussion of protein (such as in your angel foodcake episode and your recent souffle episode).

    But the other difference in Good Eats is the great emphasis you place on the parts of cooking, that is the elements at a more abstract level, such as use of heat, individual ingredients (which is the topic of many of the shows) and methods of cooking (such as the right way to mix and fold).

    This all makes Good Eats interesting for us geeks out there who want to understand the science, but also helps us non-cooking geeks become literate in the supermarket and kitchen.

    What gave you the idea to present cooking in this way and do you have any suggestions for other resources that present food and food preparation in the same way?

    - Serge Wroclawski
  • by LGV (68807)
    Thanks for coming out with a show (and a cookbook) that finally tell me why I should cook in a certain way rather than just telling me that I should do it.

    Many of your recipes tend to be a high in fat (for example, deep fried mac and cheese [foodtv.com]). How often do you eat food like that? Do you worry you'll die of a heart attack by age 45?

    Thanks for the shows, I really enjoy them.
  • by evilned (146392) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:19PM (#4054625) Homepage
    I watch your show quite a bit, and one thing, and in one show (the souffle one) you mention that most plastic has a similar structure to fat, so fat has a tendency to stick to it. My question is where do you get your scientific info? Do you have a background in science to find this out yourself, or do you have friends who have a chemistry background that gives you chemical reasons why cooking is done the way it is?
  • by tmhsiao (47750) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:20PM (#4054628) Homepage Journal
    Given that your show has covered subjects ranging from eggplant (which most children hate) to gelatin (c'mon, there's always room for Jell-O!), you obviously have a wide variety of foods that you enjoy to prepare and eat.

    Are there any specific foods, however, which you expressly *DO NOT* like? Where the preparation is particularly odious, or where the cooking itself is tedious, or where you just plain don't like the taste?

  • by mosch (204) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:20PM (#4054629) Homepage
    Could you recommend a checklist of things you should have in your kitchen that wasn't put together by the marketing department of Williams-Sonoma?
  • High Altitude (Score:2, Interesting)

    by splume (560873)
    Alton,

    As a big fan of yours, your show is a refreshing change from the same old shows on FoodTV. I really enjoy trying out your recipes and have had some great success. However, the problems arise when baking. Because I live in high-altitude (Boulder, CO) I have to adjust the temperatures and ingredient mixtures. There is an easy formula to follow and it works for most things, but not all. Your awesome recipe for a water-bake cheesecake has been a bit hit with my family and friends. The problem is, that I have to really tweak the cooking time and temperature to get it firm all the way through. On to my question...

    What do you suggest for high-altitude recipes that don't include yeast, flour, or other dry baked goods (i.e. the cheesecake)?
  • by gosand (234100) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:21PM (#4054635)
    I am, and have been, a big fan of cooking for most of my 32 years. If I ever get sick of the tech biz, I would love to travel to France and learn how to cook over there. Anyway, on to the question...

    Tech geeks are infamous for dealing with non-tech people with disdain, because we know (or think we know) so much about technology.

    I have often wondered if this happens to chefs. When you go out to eat, do you overthink the food or are you able to just enjoy it? If something isn't quite perfect, do you find yourself thinking "They should have done this, or that". As your experience and tastes grow, do you find food to be less enjoyable and more work, or is it something that brings you continuous enjoyment?

    And thanks for doing such a fantastic show, I liken it to the science show "Beakman's World" of several years ago.

  • by Coolfish (69926) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:22PM (#4054639)
    As a chef, you are sort of a flagship of food. And since you're hip and cool, you know how to "jive" with the kids. Now, we all know the typical North American diet is crap. More than half are fat, a tremendously large amount of the population is marketedly obese, and the trend seems to be getting worse.

    As a popular TV chef who also tends to educate more than just throw food together, do you feel responsible to promote healthier eating? And I don't mean that "low fat" nonsense which you yourself point out is bollocks in your book, but things like avoiding the foods that we tend to over-eat nowadays because they are so tasty and cheaply produced? (eg, sugar, HFCS, white flours, etc, all that stuff devoid of any nutrional value).

    Cheers,

    Coolfish (Sushi, if you will :> )
  • I've seen just about every episode (more than twice, my wife will vouch for that), and I know that the first question of cooking tools is usually quality. But, a close second is always multipurposity (yeah, I like making up the goofy phrase or two). Even those of us with significant kitchen budgets have a hard time acquiring a good collection of tools. What makes your top ten (or twelve, or twenty-two) list for essential, mutlitasking cooking tools?

    Heck, what are the ten things that should be in my fridge and pantry at all times?
  • Your interest in science as related to food is obvious, but are you a geek for other things as well?? What other technology / science to you follow, and are you a Slashdotter by any chance (or will you become one now??
  • (or How Can I Make Use of this Seemingly Useless Information from College)

    Anthropologists working with communities that practice cannibalism have reported that individuals can more-or-less peg a persons origin based on how they taste - presumably through their diet.

    How much variation in flavor can you get in chicken, beef, etc. just through the animals diet?

    Additionally, what is it in the makeup of the meat that makes the smell so distinctive. What makes beef taste like beef and chicken like chicken? I would think that beef flavored chicken would be quite a hit for the environment.
  • Could you change the color scheme on your website so that I don't go blind while trying to read it?
  • Technical questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheJerkstoreCalled (177162) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:28PM (#4054693)
    Hello! I actually watched your very first show about steak here in PBS, it was the first thing in my life that made me interested in cooking. Every time I watch an episode of Good Eats, I always end it wanting to go cook something.

    I had a technical question, we always see these shots coming out of refrigerators and ovens. Do you actually have little windows in the back of your appliances or are those props built up for the shows? I always assumed they were props but you never know. Also, is that really your house you shoot in? I love the Magritte hate with chicken painting.
  • by veddermatic (143964) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:31PM (#4054730) Homepage
    I love cooking, and I love eating. What is your take on how often / how much to eat? There's the traditional "3 meals a day" we all grew up with, and various other toughts on the subject like the "six small meals a day" and "one huge meal in the AM, and just a few snacks the rest of the day"

    What's your take... how often do you eat a day, or do you not "plan" eating, and just eat whenever hungry or at non-structured intervals?
  • Campfire Cooking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amoeba Protozoa (15911) <jordan...husney@@@gmail...com> on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:34PM (#4054764) Homepage
    Dear Alton,

    I just came back from a trip in the great hinterlands of Minnesota, so this question is spawned from recent culinary experience:

    If you were sent out to the middle of nowhere and had some time to prepare for the trip, what sorts of equipment would you take along and what dishes would you prepare? For the sake of keeping it simple, let's say you had to cook a brekfast and dinner over a campfire. What would you make to really wow your fellow campers using as few ingredients and as little equpiment as possible?

    Thank you,

    -AP
  • by slow_flight (518010) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:36PM (#4054785)
    Alton - I can't help but notice that your kitchen has quite a bit of high-end Viking appliances in it. I'm in the process of designing the kitchen for my new house, but doubt if my budget will allow for such high-end appliances. What features of the Viking appliances are the most important to you, and which are just "nice to haves?" For example, after the millionth cleaning of the undertrays on my range, I'm sold on the idea of sealed burners. I also find it difficult to get a low enough heat on my burners to simmer a delicate sauce, so I'm sold on the idea of at least one low-BTU burner. What else should I be looking for in my Viking-like but not quite Viking appliances? And are there benefits to going with a cook top and wall oven as opposed to a range? One more: I'm considering going with a gas cooktop and an electric convection wall oven - thoughts? Ok, one more: any thoughts on Advantium "cook with light" ovens?
  • by cporter (61382) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:38PM (#4054805)
    Mr. Brown, I love your recipes. In the last few weeks, I've prepared Chocolate Mousse, Party Mayonaisse, Chimney Tuna, and Baba Ganoush from "Good Eats" and Chicken Piccata from "I'm Just Here for the Food." Not all at one meal, of course.

    I applaud episodes like "Good Milk Gone Bad" and "The Other Red Meat" that focus on lower fat and cholesterol foods. But many of your recipes call for butter, oil, cream, and other less than healthful foods (even bacon grease!). What do you think about some of the substitutes out there, or using ingredients like applesauce to replace butter?

    Thank You
    Chris

    • by Coolfish (69926) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:47PM (#4055413)
      dietary intake of cholesterol has absolutely no effect on blood cholesterol levels. It's got more to do with transfatty acids and the like. Lower fat in and of itself is silly - take look at all the low-fat foods out there, and how many fat people there are. Now take a look at the ingredients of those low fat foods - fat tastes good, without it, you need something else so that the "food" is palpatable. And what's in the top 3 ingredients for all these low fat foods? Sugar. Empty calories that merely rape the pancreas, skyrocket blood sugar levels, and cause diabetes (is it any wonder in the early 1900s the average person ate less than 2 lbs of sugar per year, and now it is typically over 150 lbs! Any wonder diabetes has skyrocketed?)

      Read Alton's book, he talks about different fats and cholesterol, and notes just how silly and misguided current low-fat trends are.
  • Cooking In Lava (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrIcee (550834) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:39PM (#4054817) Homepage
    Mr Brown. First, thank you for a wonderful television show and an excellant book. I enjoy both continually and look forward to all your new work.

    Now... on to, perhaps, one of the more unusual questions you might receive. This question deals directly with how heat affects food.

    Specifically... I live on the slopes of an active volcano. One of the things we like to do for fun is cook game hen and pork loins in the hot lava itself. First, let me describe our process, and then our question.

    To cook a game hen we first season and then wrap the hen in about 10 Ti (or banana) leaves. These protect the hen from actually burning.

    Next we find an active surface breakout of lava. We use a shovel (we also are wearing kevlar gloves that can withstand 2000 degrees of heat) and get a good shovel full of red lava. We place this on the ground a distance from the flow. We then position the Ti-wrapped hen in the middle of the blob of lava and cover it with another shovel full of lava. We try to leave a small opening to the Ti leaves, for steam to escape (or we can potentially have a steam explosion).

    Now, the question. The lava is initially at 2000 degrees when we start cooking. After about 15 minutes it has cooled to around 850 degrees (outside of the rock - we read this using an infrared pyrometer). After about 45 minutes the outside is about 450 degrees. At that point we hit the rock with the shovel to open it. Only a few of the Ti leaves will remain uncharred. We remove those and the hen is then very moist and delicious.

    How is it possible, using a heat source at 2000 degrees (that granted, gets cooler over time) that it still takes 45 minutes to cook the game hen? We would have thought that the cooking would have been near instantanous - but repeated experiments at various lengths of time reveal that it takes exactly as long in the lava, as in an oven.

    If you would like to view pictures of this process... click here [dolphinbayhotel.com].

    Aloha

  • Homebrew! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpish Scholar (17107) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:39PM (#4054818) Homepage Journal
    I look forward to this season's forthcoming episode on homebrewing. (Beer, guys, not electronics.)

    Can you please say a few things about how you feel about beer: drinking it, cooking with it, brewing it yourself?

    ("Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew.")
  • by IvyMike (178408) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:42PM (#4054859)

    Many of the answers to some of the questions asked so far can be found at www.altonbrown.com [altonbrown.com] and also at (especially check the FAQS on this site). [goodeatsfanpage.com]

    I mention this because I'd like to see slashdot add to the internet's collective pool of Alton Brown knowledge, not repeat stuff that we already known.

  • production of show (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikeee (137160) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:44PM (#4054873)
    Not a food question, but I'm curious:

    Your show seems to have production values similar to other cooking shows, but I get the impression that the same, ah, practical approach you have to cooking was taken to production. ("Ok, this is just him and some camera guy in his home kitchen.")

    How many people does it actually take to produce Good Eats, how much money is that, and who exactly owns and runs which parts of that operation?
  • Boiling water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LtBurrito (267305) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:44PM (#4054878)

    I think this is the kind of question Alton loves to answer.

    Recipes always call for you to boil cold water. I'm too impatient for that. I like to start with hot water. I can imagine that an old water heater would let the water sit there for a while, and might get extra "junk" in it. I bet newer ones circulate the water better. Plus, I'm boiling the friggin water anyway. There's not going to be any live bacteria in it.

    Can I please continue to boil hot water?

    PS. I still want to see you do a standing back flip like Jamie Oliver.
  • Equipment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Byteme (6617) on Monday August 12, 2002 @12:46PM (#4054891) Homepage
    I was looking at the equipment [goodeatsfanpage.com] list and noticed it was extraordinary compared to Anthony Bordain's list in Kitchen Confidential [barnesandnoble.com] (a couple knives, ring shape PVC, squeeze bottle, tooth-picks, sauté pan, stock pot, mandoline and a couple other items). Can we make do with less? I have cooked to impress in my hack kitchen using the simple tools... (granted I have Le Creuset and All Clad pans and Kitchen Aid and Cuisinart tools) I always find that it comes down to the best ingredients and one decent knife & pan. I only ask because DIY and "keep it simple" often go hand in hand in the hack mentality. Plus $5K to go out and upgrade the kitchen is a lot to ask.

  • Dear Alton,

    I'm convinced your show, Good Eats, is one of the best things on television. I was hoping you could tell us more about how you got the idea to shoot a show in the first place, how you decided to put a scientific slant on things, and where you would like to take Good Eats in the future?

    Thank you,

    -AP
  • Cooking with Smoke (Score:5, Interesting)

    by texag1992 (462668) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:10PM (#4055100) Homepage
    I love the book, but was a little disappointed in your brief description of why cooking with smoke makes food taste so good. Here in Texas, smoking meats is very popular, but little is understood regarding the science involved in cooking this way.

    For instance, why do smoked meats stay moist and tender instead of drying out? Why do smoked meats have a pink color near the surface - almost appearing uncooked? Is cooking with smoke really carcinogenous?

  • The State of Food (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skyhook (4433) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:15PM (#4055159)
    I watch exactly two television programs. NFL Football and Good Eats.

    I have three questions.

    I learned a long time ago that I enjoyed cooking more than anything else. Part of that is that, being a geek, I live in a digital world, and the analog act of cooking is very soothing. While I will complain loudly at standing in a line longer than ten minutes, I've often spent HOURS on my feet in the kitchen cooking for holidays, and went to bed that night blissfully calm.

    In the US today, with rampant McCuisine and dual income families, the concept of cooking has been shoved to the back burner, so to speak. Eating is something you do, not something you enjoy. Even worse, good food is, for many, something you go get, not something you do in your own kitchen.

    So, riddle me these questions three...

    1) What can be done about the dumbing down of american cuisine? Your show is a spectacular start, but there simply arent enough of them. You actually make other shows irrelevant. I'm no longer content to see the "How" without also getting the "why?" Short of "Good Eats 2", what can be done to teach americans what good food is?

    2) You're living the life I'd kill for. You were a Video guy who left to go to culinary school. I'm a web guy who would give anything to do the same, if I could figure out how to pay the mortgage and feed the three kids in the interim. I have taken the path of self education. Your book is, quite honestly, a textbook that should be required reading for anyone who wants to cook. I'm waiting for my copy of McGee's On Food And Cooking [amazon.com], what other resources do you recommend for someone who is very serious about culinary education, but doesn't have the resources for an immersive culinary school?

    3) Your equipment recommendations, so far, have been dead on. My Magnum pepper mill is a dream, My lodge cast iron has a seasoning my grandmother would have been jealous of, and Spring loaded tongs have been a fixture in my kitchen since before you did your PBS shows. But I have yet to find a source for your Jomac gloves, and I am still patiently waiting for the Plunger and Plunger Junior to go on sale at Your Site [altonbrown.com]. Hook a brother up, to steal a Nicholson line, "Where does he get these wonderful toys."?

    Oh, and I'll slide in one more question. What subjects are on tap for next season?
    • American Cuisine (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hndrcks (39873) on Monday August 12, 2002 @02:33PM (#4055808) Homepage
      Perhaps it's all the time spent watching NFL (shudder) - but how can you say American cuisine is 'dumbing down?' How can you say people don't care about what they eat? Yes, 'Colonel McBurger Pizza Taco' has sold leventy-zillion 'value meal deals', but paralleling that is an equally rapid increase in the quality and variety of food (both in restaurants and groceries). I offer the following examples of how American food is anything but 'dumbing down':

      1. The post-Prohibition recovery of American viticulture, and the general improvement of wine quality in general; (no more Ripple!)

      2. I can buy morels, prosciutto, tomatillos, good bread, taro root, radicchio, and organ meats in my local grocery store;

      3. 'Asian Cuisine' no longer implies Mai-Tai's with little umbrellas served in a coconut shell;

      4. The Food Network;

      5. Williams-Sonoma is in every metro area of 100,000 or more, it seems. Yes, it's pretentious and expensive - but it's there.

      6. Microbreweries.

      'Dumbed down'? No. American cuisine is now at its most brilliant - and it's getting better.

  • Herbs & Spices (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Strange Ranger (454494) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:17PM (#4055169)
    Alton, about a year and a half ago at the suggestion of a friend's gourmet cook mother, I bit the bullet and made the upgrade from grocery store McCormick type spices and dried herbs to those carried by Penzeys Spices. [penzeys.com]

    There has been an amazing improvement in everything I cook. Everything from McCormick really is bland dust next to its Penzeys equivalent. (No, I have no affiliation of any sort with Penzeys, just a recent convert).

    So where do you go for your dried herbs and spices? Better yet, where do you recommend your viewers & readers buy reasonably priced quality herbs and spices?

    Thanks!
  • Next Book? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by alacqua (535697) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:18PM (#4055182) Homepage
    In the introduction to your book, you dangled something about batters and baking being fodder for another book. I really enjoy your "Mr. Wizard Meets Cooking" style of teaching the "why's" and, dare I say it, theory behind techniques without being boring. Are you seriously considering a baking book and, in the meantime, can you recommend a baking book that explores the "why's" and the techniques and frees me from what James Peterson called the "tyranny of recipes"? Umm... I think it was him.

    Maybe after reading a book like that, and I'm Just Here for the Food, I'll have learned enough to know that I know nothing. Only then will I be able to snatch a pebble from Julia Child's hand.

    BTW, great TV show, great book!

  • by dghcasp (459766) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:32PM (#4055290)
    I've recently begun really playing with sauces, coincidently after finishing reading your book and Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise," and have some questions that were left unaddressed... Yes, it's more than one, but pick your favourite.

    1. When trying to pan-fry things, the books recommend leaving the food in place without moving for a few minutes to develop the fond. Unfortunatly for me, I always end up with burnt bits and an hour of scrubbing my All-Clad pots. For poaching, it's recommended to cook in liquid at the target temperature, because then the food will never overcook. Can you do the same thing for pan frying, or will you never develop a fond? Or to put it another way (aka the geeky slashdot way,) what's the magic temperature for the Maillard reaction?

    2. Because I'm a typical indentured serf with long work hours, I cook enough food on the weekends that I can bring my dinners to work and microwave them. But I'm having problems with Roux-based sauces, as after a night in the refrigerator, they turn to gelatenous blobs instead of creamy sauces (This may be a result of using home-made chicken stock.) What's the best way to reconstitute a sauce?

  • Anthony Bourdain (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rnb (471088) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:39PM (#4055363)
    Once upon a time on your website, you did a very small review of Tony Bourdain's book on Typhoid Mary and mentioned that Tony "writes better than he cooks." What was that? Is there some sort of rivalry brewing? A bad dinner at Les Halles? I'd love to hear the background story.

  • by Corvus (27991) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:41PM (#4055381) Homepage
    It's said that one should never trust a thin chef, but with all the recent attention on the failure of low-fat diets to prevent obesity and its complications, where do you weigh in on the whole low-carb way of eating?
  • Safe Cooking Temps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dmaxwell (43234) on Monday August 12, 2002 @01:43PM (#4055397)
    The wife and I are huge fans of your show but there is one thing we notice from time to time that we've always wondered about. For instance, your country ham recipe specifies that the ham is done when the interior temp hits 140 degrees. However,

    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/ham.htm

    states that "cook-before-eating hams must reach 160 F to be safely cooked before serving." I know those bad boys have been salt cured but I would still be worried about trichinosis. Your "done" temperatures for meat are often lower than what the food safety people would have them be. This is a long winded way of asking "What is your approach to food safety?" You look pretty healthy to me so I'll assume you know something those government fussbudgets don't but I'd feel better about trying out some of your recipes if I knew what that was.

  • by withak53 (463555) on Monday August 12, 2002 @02:41PM (#4055862)
    Mr. Brown,

    In the interest of comedy and safety could you tell us of some of your experiments that didn't quite make it to the screen or page?

  • Food technology (Score:3, Informative)

    by ruiner13 (527499) on Monday August 12, 2002 @03:12PM (#4056059) Homepage
    Mr. Brown,

    seeing as this is a science and technology related site, I figured I'd try to relate my questions to this topic. Ok, so here goes.

    1. What do you feel are the most important inventions/advancements in food preparation/service technology in the last 25 years, and which do you use the most in your cooking (i've seen you use just about anything not nailed down on Good Eats!).
    2. What areas of food perparation/service do you feel can still be benefited more by future technology?

    I know that's technically two questions, but they're kinda related. Also, thanks for having such a great show, I have learned a lot from you, and look forward to reading your book!

  • by K8Fan (37875) on Monday August 12, 2002 @03:54PM (#4056384) Journal

    I have a High-Definition system and love it, but there's one thing missing - an HD cooking show. You really seem to be into having a show that looks different than all the other cooking shows. Any possibility of making at least one demo show in HD? Marc Cuban's HD-NET [hd.net] would show it.

  • by Mebbekew (73746) on Monday August 12, 2002 @04:02PM (#4056449)
    A few weeks ago, while trying my hand at french pastry-making, I nearly set fire to my oven as an overflowing tray of oil and melted butter (don't ask) splashed all over the red hot elements, generated copious amounts of acrid smoke, and threatened to ignite. I'm sure that with as much cooking experience as you have, you've seen many hilarious kitchen accidents.

    What are the most memorable accidents, or acts of blatant stupidity, that you've seen or taken part in during cooking?
  • Gravy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cr0sh (43134) on Monday August 12, 2002 @04:05PM (#4056479) Homepage
    My question:

    What, exactly, is the science and process behind making good and wholesome gravy?

    Seriously, Alton - my wife yesterday, when I mentioned that this was going to be an "Ask /." interview, told me that she wanted to pay YOU $1000.00 (US) to come over to our house to teach her how to make gravy. I am almost ready to front that amount, too.

    It seems like every time we have tried to make gravy, it either never thickens, or we get paste. It seems like a simple thing to do - leave some pan drippings (and the grungy gunk too - flavor bits!), add a tiny bit of flour, mix and brown to create a nice roue (or however that is spelled), then add some milk, and perhaps a little more flour to thicken (salt, pepper, and spicing to taste).

    I think we managed ONCE to create a real gravy.


    So Alton, my question is:

    HOW DO YOU MAKE GRAVY???!!!

  • Kitchen disasters (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Grackle (570961) on Monday August 12, 2002 @04:39PM (#4056652)
    Hi Alton, Can you tell us about some of your most memorable, instructive or whacky kitchen disasters?
  • "Seasoned" pans (Score:3, Interesting)

    by K8Fan (37875) on Monday August 12, 2002 @05:22PM (#4056958) Journal

    My wife is a wonderful woman, but has a phobia about cast iron pans. I cannot seem to convince her to let a cast iron pan "season" like it is supposed to. I scrub it out with kosher salt as you are supposed to, but she insists on putting that sucker in the sink and scrubbing it with a Brillo pad to get it "clean"...totally ruining the seasoning.

    What can you say to her to convince her that a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan is healthy?

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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